The Sport of Networking
Recently I read an intriguing article in The Globe and Mail “Hockey Course Helps Women Break the Ice” (September 27, 2014) about “The Gal’s Got Game”, a networking company that developed a crash course on hockey specifically aimed at helping professional women get ahead in business by learning about sports. At an event for a group of 50 female professionals, the day involved learning hockey by watching the Toronto Maple Leafs practice, listening to hockey stories from former Leafs, including retired Captain Wendel Clark and then watching a game against the Ottawa Senators. Recognising that sports provides a common language, can be an ice-breaker in networking settings and is also an equaliser in the business world where both the CEO of a company and a mailroom clerk can bond while reviewing last night’s game, the event helped women with no background in sports develop networking skills based upon hockey language and knowledge. Hockey was selected because it is Canada’s dominant national sport and the women professionals wanted to succeed in Canadian businesses.
As a library professional who plays a variety of sports (basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and hockey), I can attest to the value of sports knowledge as a valuable networking ice-breaker, an image adjustment and a useful positioning tool when meeting the library community. While working as a public librarian, I’ve found time to keep playing women’s basketball, soccer and golf at a fairly good level, both for the professional and personal benefits. Participation in sports puts me in contact with a different group of women than I’d normally meet in library settings; however, our common interest is a tremendous ice-breaker. And while the teams that I’ve played on are comprised of teachers, nurses, dentists, lawyers and health professionals, it’s rare to meet another library professional. I feel that I’m working against the stereotype of our profession whenever I sink a basket, steal the ball or land on the green! But I’m able to network with other, often emerging, women professionals in my community. While these women might support the idea of libraries, they are often not actual library users, so I am frequently selling the value of libraries to these tax-payers. Advocacy can creep up even in the after game social.
Playing sports has other benefits, all related to personal development, continuous improvement and self-control, all of which are beneficial in our work environment. Learning to post up and shoot over a taller opponent is something I learned through observation, then trial. (I applied the same approach when I needed to become more proficient with HTML, Excel tasks and Google’s suite of tools.) When playing with a diverse group of women, focused on a team goal of winning, you learn to take and apply critical feedback. One is able to practise focussing, if only for the few seconds needed to get the puck in the net or the ball in the hoop, cup or net. Playing after a busy work day is the best outlet for taking one completely away from work.
I’ve encouraged library co-workers to play with me by setting up an after work golf group for colleagues of all capabilities, male and female and challenging nearby public libraries to a friendly game of baseball on a warm summer night. Both endeavours reaped benefits in terms of equalising relations among staff who participated, providing a fun outlet for staff and their families and allowing for inter-departmental and inter-library bonding as we “toured” area golf courses and baseball diamonds in our region. It’s possible that interlibrary lending improved, too!
I recommend adding sports or sporting events to your professional life. The benefits in terms of professional networking are significant, however the true benefits will last a lifetime.